Noah’s Ark Gar­den in Holon, Israel, by Dr. Avishai Teicher

Ever since I was young, I’ve been fas­ci­nat­ed by the sto­ry of Noah’s Ark. As a child, I had so many ques­tions: How could Noah pos­si­bly have built an ark large enough for that many ani­mals? What would he have fed them for such a long stay? How did he pre­vent nat­ur­al ene­mies from attack­ing and eat­ing each oth­er? What did the ani­mals do all day, every day? Did­n’t any of them have babies on the long jour­ney, mak­ing three of some kinds? And my biggest ques­tion: As the waters began to rise, why was there no men­tion of all the oth­er peo­ple that they were leav­ing behind — wicked, yes, but still worth at least a pass­ing thought, right? As a kid who made plen­ty of mis­takes, this seemed espe­cial­ly awful. How bad could these dis­card­ed peo­ple have been? I nev­er found any sat­is­fy­ing answers.

Worse and Worse on Noah’s Ark is my third attempt to write a sto­ry about this fan­tas­tic voy­age. My first try was in diary form and the sec­ond was in verse. This final one, the one that became my book, was the most straight­for­ward ver­sion, some­what Yid­dish-inflect­ed and with a humor­ous tone. What could be more Jew­ish than meet­ing trou­bles and sor­rows with good-humored kvetching?

What could be more Jew­ish than meet­ing trou­bles and sor­rows with good-humored kvetching?

What I did­n’t expect was how time­ly the book’s pub­li­ca­tion would turn out to be. The COVID-19 real­i­ty we are now liv­ing with was com­plete­ly unimag­in­able when I start­ed writ­ing. But dur­ing these strange and scary times, the sto­ry of Noah and his ark has obvi­ous res­o­nance. Shel­ter­ing in place, try­ing to feed our­selves and keep safe — we are all in our own cramped arks, nav­i­gat­ing rough seas, try­ing to get along, and des­per­ate­ly hop­ing for the storm to end and a rain­bow to appear, a promise of bet­ter times to come. Most bib­li­cal schol­ars say that Noah and his com­pan­ions were on the ark for a full year: the forty days of rain, then the time wait­ing for God to remem­ber and make the waters sub­side, and final­ly, the send­ing forth of a raven, a dove, and a sec­ond dove. I can’t imag­ine a year of lock­down; as I write this, it’s been just under forty days for me and it already seems like it’s been forever.

Worse and Worse on Noah’s Ark does­n’t pro­vide the answers to any of my child­hood ques­tions, though I at least got to fea­ture my favorite ani­mals in the book. But, per­haps, it’s enough that there are good ques­tions. Ques­tion­ing is so Tal­mu­dic, after all. How can we keep the peace, all crowd­ed togeth­er in a con­fined space? How can we sup­port each oth­er (includ­ing, this time, those on neigh­bor­ing arks)? Why is it so dif­fi­cult to remem­ber that, like Noah, we do best by doing noth­ing, by stay­ing patient­ly home while the virus runs its course?

A resigned accep­tance that things can almost always get worse is a pret­ty typ­i­cal Jew­ish reac­tion to chal­leng­ing times — but so is the belief that when we work togeth­er, we can usu­al­ly make things a lit­tle bit bet­ter. And every time I think (like Mrs. Noah in the book), Oy vey, what a day! This is just too much,” I remind myself that, accord­ing to the Old Tes­ta­ment, Noah was six-hun­dred years old at the time the flood occurred. If he could get through his quar­an­tine, then so can I.

Leslie Kim­mel­man grew up out­side Philadel­phia and grad­u­at­ed from Mid­dle­bury Col­lege in Ver­mont. She is the author of many children’s books, awards for which include Best Children’s Books of the Year from the Bank Street Col­lege of Edu­ca­tion; Notable Children’s Trade Books in the Field of Social Stud­ies; and Syd­ney Tay­lor Notable Books. Kim­mel­man is an edi­tor at Sesame Work­shop and lives with her fam­i­ly just north of New York City.